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This month, we used Robert Frost’s poem “The Road Not Taken” as a springboard to discuss how we feel about decisions years after we’ve made them. Here is the poem — or, if you prefer, you can listen to Frost reading it here.
THE ROAD NOT TAKEN, by Robert Frost
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Using this poem as a prompt, you might want to write about whatever memories or reflections come to mind as you think about what it means.
You might also want to use one or more of these quotations as the basis for writing:
“I don’t know if I continue, even today, always liking myself. But what I learned to do many years ago was to forgive myself. It is very important for every human being to forgive herself or himself because if you live, you will make mistakes- it is inevitable. But once you do and you see the mistake, then you forgive yourself and say, ‘Well, if I’d known better I’d have done better,’ that’s all. So you say to people who you think you may have injured, ‘I’m sorry,’ and then you say to yourself, ‘I’m sorry.’ If we all hold on to the mistake, we can’t see our own glory in the mirror because we have the mistake between our faces and the mirror; we can’t see what we’re capable of being. You can ask forgiveness of others, but in the end the real forgiveness is in one’s own self.” – Maya Angelou
“Just because it didn’t work doesn’t mean it was the wrong choice. The world is full of probabilities, not certainties.” ― James Clear
“Is life a game of yes or no? I wonder about the absolutes that we try to create for ourselves, our relationship, our life choices. We try to make things black and white when sometimes it is much more grey.” ― Savi Sharma
I think that somehow, we learn who we really are and then live with that decision. — Eleanor Roosevelt
At this month’s Writing as Healing workshop, we considered this poem by Jenny Jacobs:
When I Am an Old Woman, I Shall Wear Purple
By Jenny Jacobs
When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me.
And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
And satin sandals, and say we’ve no money for butter.
I shall sit down on the pavement when I’m tired
And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells
And run my stick along the public railings
And make up for the sobriety of my youth.
I shall go out in my slippers in the rain
And pick flowers in other people’s gardens
And learn to spit.
You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat
And eat three pounds of sausages at a go
Or only bread and pickle for a week
And hoard pens and pencils and beermats and things in boxes.
But now we must have clothes that keep us dry
And pay our rent and not swear in the street
And set a good example for the children.
We must have friends to dinner and read the papers.
But maybe I ought to practise a little now?
So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised
When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple.
We discussed the following question, which you might want to use as a prompt for writing:
How do we find a balance between these two values? (1) being considerate, meeting our obligations, and not leaving others in the lurch because we’re being self-indulgent; versus (2) authenticity, no more need to impress people, and being free to do what makes us happy as long as it isn’t hurting anyone
Writing prompt: With all this in mind, how do you see your life now as opposed to when you were 20 years younger? It might help to take a moment to think about where you were, what you were doing, what was important to you then.
You might also like to use one or more of these quotations as prompts for writing:
“The older I get, the more I like myself. I’m not afraid to say what I think, even if it’s not popular.” – Coco Chanel
“Age is not important unless you’re a cheese.” – Luis Bunuel
“Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.” – Anais Nin
“It’s not about being different, it’s about being yourself.” – Ellen DeGeneres
“The only person you are destined to become is the person you decide to be.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
“Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.” – Oscar Wilde
\We’ve all faced situations in which other people urge us to make a particular decision, such as having a certain medical treatment or staying in a difficult marriage, when we ourselves would prefer to do something else. Difficult as those disagreements might be, though, it can be even harder to make a decision when the conflict is internal — that is, we’re not sure in our own minds what the right decision is, whether for ourselves or for others.
As an aid to making good decisions, it might be useful to spend some time thinking about the internal factors that influence how we think. As an example, some older women, in particular, were taught to feel responsible for other people’s emotions and happiness, as if it would be selfish even to consider our own needs or preferences when deciding whether to do what someone else wants us to do. Similarly, some people might have been conditioned to avoid conflict at all costs and to avoid taking risks, while others might have been conditioned to do the opposite.
Writing exercise: What were you taught as a child and as a young adult about how you should make decisions, whether for yourself or for others? As you think about how you feel and behave when you have to make a decision, are you still being influenced by that early training? The objective is not necessarily to judge your early training as good or bad, but to increase self-knowledge about what internal factors influence you when you’re faced with a decision.
You might also want to consider the following factors that psychologists have identified as possible influences on the way people make decisions and how they feel about those decisions afterward.
* Putting your own needs on hold to the point that you start to feel resentful.
* Making excuses for other people’s persistent bad behavior, such as that the person had a difficult childhood or went through some sort of trauma.
* Feeling hesitant to set boundaries as to what you will or won’t do for another person, or how often you’ll to let them get away with doing the same unacceptable thing without meaningful consequences.
* Feeling responsible for solving the other person’s problems, or for “making” them feel better.
* Ignoring a problem or glossing over it in order to avoid conflict, or because you’re afraid of how the person might react to what you see as the truth, or because you’re afraid that they won’t love you any more.
Finally, you might want to use one or more of these quotations as a prompt for writing.
“‘No’ is a complete sentence.” — Annie Lamott
“Intentional or not, I was being taught that my discomfort was unimportant and that the potential of upsetting another outweighed my own feelings.” ― Michelle Elman
“Whether they’re family or friends, manipulators are difficult to escape from. Give in to their demands and they’ll be happy enough, but if you develop a spine and start saying no, it will inevitably bring a fresh round of head games and emotional blackmail. You’ll notice that breaking free from someone else’s dominance will often result in them accusing you of being selfish. Yes, you’re selfish, because you’ve stopped doing what they want you to do for them. Wow. Can these people hear themselves?!” ― Rosie Blythe
This month’s Writing as Healing session focused on the importance of support, whether from groups and individuals, from relatives and friends, or from strangers.
You might want to begin by writing for 10 minutes or so about what support means in your life — both receiving it and giving it. One way to approach this topic might be to envision what your life would be like without the support that you receive and that you give.
You might also want to use any of these quotations as the starting point for reflective writing.
“Life’s most urgent question is: ‘What are you doing for others?'” — Martin Luther King, Jr.
“Sometimes the only thing you could do for people was to be there.” — Terry Pratchett
“A word of encouragement during a failure is worth more than an hour of praise after success.” — Anonymous
“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” – Helen Keller
“No one can whistle a symphony. It takes a whole orchestra to play it.” – H.E. Luccock
“Family isn’t always blood. It’s the people in your life who want you in theirs, the ones who accept you for who you are. The ones who would do anything to see you smile and who love you no matter what.” — Anonymous
In this video, poet Maya Angelou speaks about the importance of all the people from whom she has received acts of kindness.
After watching it, you might want to write for 10 minutes or so about whatever comes to your mind as you think about the video.
You might also want to use one or more of these quotations as a prompt for writing:
“Do things for people not because of who they are or what they do in return, but because of who you are.” – Harold S. Kushner
“Because that’s what kindness is. It’s not doing something for someone else because they can’t, but because you can.” – Andrew Iskander
“Remember there’s no such thing as a small act of kindness. Every act creates a ripple with no logical end.” – Scott Adams
“That is what compassion does. It challenges our assumptions, our sense of self-limitation, worthlessness, of not having a place in the world, our feelings of loneliness and estrangement. These are narrow, constrictive states of mind. As we develop compassion, our hearts open.” —Sharon Salzberg
Now that it’s spring, this month’s session focused on new beginnings, on starting each day afresh. We began by discussing a poem:
Poem by a contemporary South Korean poet, born 1970
In the Morning on a New Day by Joon-tae Moon
A new day has come.
We’re wearing the morning sunlight abask.
The sunlight is soft like music of love.
Mornings are always positive.
Mornings resemble very considerate people
Who nod through things easily.
Yesterday’s melancholy and sorrow
Have passed like clouds.
There’s neither obligation nor need
To dredge up yesterday’s troubles.
Simply, we only need to completely
Forget about yesterday’s things in this morning.
A new day is in front of us.
How fortunate it is!
How grateful it is!
We only need to start again.
In today’s session, we discussed each stanza separately, and you might like to use any one of the stanzas, or the poem as a whole, as the basis for writing.
Here are some additional quotations on this topic that might serve as prompts for writing whatever comes into your mind as you think about them.
“Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day. You shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson
“We can easily manage if we will only take, each day, the burden appointed to it. But the load will be too heavy for us if we carry yesterday’s burden over again today, and then add the burden of the morrow before we are required to bear it.” – John Newton
One is doing well if age improves even slightly one’s capacity to hold on to that vital truism: “This too shall pass.” — Alain de Botton
Just keep in mind: the more we value things outside our control, the less control we have. — Epictetus
Never ruin a good day by thinking about a bad yesterday. — Unknown
People have a hard time letting go of their suffering. They prefer suffering that is familiar to the unknown. — Thich Nhat Hanh
Feelings are just visitors. Let them come and go. — Mooji
In case anyone might be interested, here is a new site called “How to Start & Keep a Mental Health Journal” that you might find useful.
It would be difficult to find someone who has not been through hard times of one kind or another. If we’re lucky, we can become living illustrations of the saying, “Whatever doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.” Those difficult times can also change our perceptions of what matters. A day that we might have taken for granted earlier may seem like the best thing that could happen.
Here is a poem, “A Good Day,” that explores how it feels to emerge from a difficult time. It’s read by the author, Kait Rokowsky.
Writing (10 minutes): Taking that poem as a starting point, you might want to write whatever comes to mind about emerging from a difficult period in your life.
You might also want to use one or more of these quotations as a starting point for writing.
“Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough.” – Oprah Winfrey
“You are today where your thoughts have brought you; you will be tomorrow where your thoughts take you.” – James Allen
“There is something you must always remember. You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.” – A.A. Milne
“Inside of a ring or out, ain’t nothing wrong with going down. It’s staying down that’s wrong.” – Muhammad Ali
“Going through challenging things can teach you a lot, and they also make you appreciate the times that aren’t so challenging.” – Carrie Fisher
“In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life. It goes on.” – Robert Frost
On a hot day last summer, the little boy next door came over to bring me a letter that had been delivered to their house by mistake. I saw him at the screen door, staring fixedly at something. When I came closer, I saw that what he was staring at was a bright green bug slowly climbing the screen. What kind of bug was it? he asked eagerly. Where did it live? What did it eat? I had no idea, because I hadn’t even noticed the bug, and probably wouldn’t have if he hadn’t drawn my attention to it. You may have had similar experiences when out with a child, to whom the world is new, and small things can be very interesting.
As we carry the responsibilities of our adult lives, with a great deal occupying our minds, it seems fitting to take a little while to think about seeing life with interest and curiosity, putting aside what we thought we already knew.
This short video by Conor Neill introduces the practice of Shoshin, or beginner’s mind: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6pgU4acU5_I
Writing exercise: Although Neill speaks of business opportunities, it might be worth considering what other kinds of opportunities could be fostered by a beginner’s mind.
One or more of these quotations might also serve as prompts for writing.
“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.” ― Shunryu Suzuki
“When was the last time you saw something for the first time?” — Anonymous
“Every day is a fresh beginning. Every morn, the world is made anew.” Sarah Chauncey Wooley
“There are some people who see a great deal and some who see very little in the same things.”
― Thomas Henry Huxley
“Destinations are end points. Journeys are learnings, paths of possibilities, blossoming… fresh beginnings.” ― Rasheed Ogunlaru
“Have you ever seen the dawn? Not a dawn groggy with lack of sleep or hectic with mindless obligations and you about to rush off on an early adventure or business, but full of deep silence and absolute clarity of perception? A dawning which you truly observe, degree by degree. It is the most amazing moment of birth.” — Vera Nazarian
“Every day we can learn something new.” ― Lailah Gifty Akita
Although not everyone celebrates Christmas, this seems like a good time of year to reflect on how we experience holidays, regardless of what holidays we observe.
Holidays are meant to be enjoyable, but to enhance that enjoyment, it might help to reflect on how to handle the less pleasant aspects of holiday times. First, we may feel pressured to get a great deal done: cooking, baking, cleaning, buying and wrapping gifts, etc. We may also feel pressured emotionally, either by regrets or losses that feel sharper at holiday times, or by the sense that we should feel guilty if we’re not experiencing the emotions that traditionally go along with that holiday.
Writing Exercise: Think of a holiday that’s especially meaningful for you and picture that holiday approaching. How do feel? What thoughts come into your mind as you contemplate that holiday? How might you feel more at peace with it?
You might also like to use one or more of these quotations as a prompt for writing.
“I think happiness really happens when you least expect it: it’s when you’re not really thinking about it, when you’re not trying to achieve it, when you’re not trying to get the perfect holiday, the perfect life, the perfect body, the perfect existence.” — Bill Bailey
“The holiest of holidays are those kept by ourselves in silence and apart; the secret anniversaries of the heart.” — Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
“The joy of brightening other lives, bearing each others’ burdens, easing each other’s loads and supplanting empty hearts and lives with generous gifts becomes for us the magic of the holidays.” — W.C. Jones
“During the holidays, your pain may be closer to the surface. The ritual and intimacy of the holidays may make you more emotional. Remember that your emotions are normal and natural, and when you feel them it means it’s time for you to feel them.” – Alan D. Wolfelt
“It makes one’s mouth hurt to speak with such forced merriment.” ― David Sedaris